Black and Middle Class
To the Editor:
Shelby Steele has written one of the finest essays on black American identity I have read in a long while [“On Being Black and Middle Class,” January]. As a university official, I confront many young black students who seem to be caught up in similar double binds but refuse to entertain ideas like those of Mr. Steele’s without becoming hostile. The peer pressure to “be black” on a major university campus is enormous. And the courage to think independently of such pressure is what Mr. Steele is asking for. I applaud him for bringing up a tough issue and asking the black middle class to confront the racial problem in the United States in a different manner from the way it has been viewed for the past twenty-five years.
Los Angeles, California
To the Editor:
Shelby Steele’s “On Being Black and Middle Class” describes experiences I have observed over the past two years in working with young black men and women who, although not middle-class in the sense of being college-educated professionals, are by no means poor or lower-class.
Working for the operations department of a major brokerage house, they are at a salary level similar to that of civil servants working for the city or post office. As in Mr. Steele’s article, many of these young blacks feel a responsibility to respond favorably to certain opinions, persons, and lingo.
Islam, even for those who are Christian, is seen as a “black” religion and Louis Farrakhan as a “true” black. Radicalism of the Farrakhan sort is seen as the “true” black way of thinking, although many of these same people . . . voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984. . . .
To be fair, this symptom can also be found in the Jewish community, where there are “correct” opinions about school prayer, or, for that matter, about all church-state matters. . . . What makes Mr. Steele’s article so important, however, is that in the case of the black community, the effect of conforming to “correct” attitudes is to keep the poor in the ghettos and out of the American mainstream. . . .
Teaneck, New Jersey